Oh Basho, Forgive me!

Haiku by ~nasht-01 via deviantART

It’s been a week since the typhoon hit, but I’m still not done with writing poems about it. Most of what I can write right now are haikus because it is relatively short. But wait a minute. What are haikus, really? I started wondering about that form when I encountered Katrina Maxwell’s first attempt at it. She asked how she fared, and I was almost ready to give a comment when I realized that I really don’t know a lot about it. All I knew is that it needed to have 17 syllables cut in a specific way!

As I researched, I learned a lot about it. The typical haiku has the following characteristics:

Sense of “cutting.” Writers achieve this by putting together two images or ideas. The cut is made by a kireji. It can be considered as a “cutting word” that separates the two; it also helps the readers out by hinting how the two are related.

Seventeen on or morae.  Rough translation would equate an on with syllables, but this is not accurate. The seventeen morae are spread over three lines that has counts of 5 / 7 / 5. The kireji may appear at the ending of any of those three lines.

A seasonal reference. The Japanese call it kigo, which is drawn from a list called sajiki. An example is niji, which means “rainbow,” and this appears as a reference to summer.

After learning of those characteristics, I said to myself, “Oh Basho, forgive me!” If my memory serves me well, it’s possible that I really haven’t written a true haiku! The form seems to be tricky outside of its mother culture.

First, there’s the issue between the morae and syllables. The Japanese count phonetic sounds differently. We’ll count “Japan” as having two syllables, Ja-pan, but the Japanese counts it with three, Ja-pa-n. To reconcile this, I think that it’s just fair to count the sounds of the language used to write the haiku, considering that the readers will most likely count it in the same way.

Second, I think that the kigo requirement would limit the English haiku. Following what my logic dictates, I’d probably use something that would fall in the context of what we associate with our own seasons. Fourth of July would be a good choice for summer, and experts seem to agree.

With a deeper understanding of the haiku, I think that I’ll pause for a moment before publishing another one. I’d like to work on writing ones that would follow the characteristics of a haiku closer. I’m taking it as a challenge, and I hope that this post would also help others understand what it means to write a haiku and what to say when they’re asked to comment on one.


What do you think? Your comments are greatly appreciated.

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